Tim Youngman: Tesco sign up for Amscreen facial recogntion cameras to target adverts

Tesco petrol station

Tesco petrol station - Credit: Archant

In August I wrote a column about facial recognition in advertising. It was in response to the announcement from one of Sir Alan Sugar’s companies, Amscreen, that it was fitting facial recognition cameras to billboards to allow them to show more targeted advertising to individuals. The cameras could tell whether someone was male or female and approximate age and deliver ads appropriately.

Fast forward just three months and now Tesco has announced that it is planning to install Amscreen technology in all of its 450 petrol stations in a five year deal. The announcement means that very soon Tesco petrol purchasers, when standing at the till to pay, will have their face scanned. Adverts will then appear on a screen in front of your face targeted at whether you are male or female and approximate age, all while you are struggling to remember your pin and what pump you filled up at.

Although Amscreen and Tesco clearly stated that no images are stored and no data is collected, the announcement was met with the usual cries of despair from those concerned about data protection and privacy and intrusion. The reality is that the cameras are able to detect if they are seeing a face, its gender and approximate age and how much attention it pays to the screen. They claim a 90% accuracy rate at being able to detect male or female and unsurprisingly this accuracy rate goes down if the person is wearing a hat or covering their face in some way.

In August I finished my column by questioning whether the advancement of advertising technology and its ability to engage may actually turn people off through a sense of invasion. That question now seems much more real. With the screens expected to reach five million customers in the UK we may soon know the answer. Personally however I truly am looking forward to the first time I am standing waiting to pay and the camera gets the gender of the person in front of me wrong. I suspect my follicly challenged nature will mean this will not be an issue for me!

Tim Youngman is director of marketing for Archant